Message from the President
Hi fellow Master Naturalists!
I hope your summer has been going well and you are not suffering too much damage or inconvenience from Hurricane Ian. I’m in an interesting situation: I’m out of the state, and my brother-in-law is house-sitting for me. In 2020, when I had him house-sit for a few months, his drunk friend ran over my mail box and it didn’t get picked up out of the front yard until I returned a month or so later. Hopefully nothing too drastic has happened with that hurricane!
However, while I’ve been away, I’ve been having a wonderful time visiting my wife in New Mexico, family in Idaho, and attending a family wedding in Arizona. I’ve spent lots of time on the road, up in the mountains, and offline. It has all been good and I’ve had a lot of experiences that have made me grateful for my training as a naturalist. I don’t know about you, but I find I’m much more appreciative of almost everything I see in nature, and when I see something unusual, I now stop and ponder the “what and why” of what I’m seeing much more than I would have previously.
One illustration of this change in my attitude and attention that I thought I’d share occurred at the Randall Davey Audubon Center just outside Sante Fe, NM. I was hiking up a canyon hoping to see some juniper-pinyon forest birds, such as Juniper Titmice, Clark’s Nutcracker, Stellar’s Jays, or perhaps even a flock of Pinyon Jays. All had been in the area that week. However, none of this was to be. I’d been hiking for about an hour, going slow due to the heat (yeah, it was dry, but it was still hot!), the altitude (7500 feet and up), and, of course, just ‘cause I always go slow when I bird. I like to let them come to me; it seems to work better. Alas, I hadn’t seen any birds since I started the hike, and I could only hear one Stellar’s Jay squawking deep in the woods across the very steep canyon. However, I found I wasn’t as disheartened as I would have been in my pre-master-naturalist days. Instead I began to notice and wonder about the odd growth patterns of some of the short grasses growing in this very arid environment.
It might be hard to see here, but notice how the grass is growing in an open circle. You can see (sort of) three of them here, one clearly in the middle of the image and smaller ones left and right of that one. This seemed to be a pattern in this grass, it would start as a single clump, then grow outward, forming almost fairy-rings of grass, but always empty (or almost empty) in the center. It made me wonder about that growth pattern: were the first plants using up all the nutrients in the poor soil, so just kept expanding into “new” soil at the edges? Once I noticed this in the grass, I started noticing other adaptions to the desert environment. It seems many plants establish a foothold (roothold?) and then slowly expand outward. They even defend what they have, with pretty serious spines and prickles in an amazing variety. I quickly learned not wear shorts as I wandered about. The most innocuous looking grasses and weeds could be quite brutal when brushed up against.
Another thing I have noticed is that I’ve also been more philosophical about what I’m seeing, or, at least what I’m seeing reminds me of certain sayings. This beautiful little flower is one example; it immediately made me think of the saying “Bloom where you are planted.”
Unlike the grasses and cacti, this was a plant that never seemed to grow in clumps, but I saw a lot of them flowering alone where their seed happened to fall. Here is that flower and its immediate surroundings.
However, lest you think I had a dull day, here is my best find on that day. While hiking along a blessedly shady and cool section of the trail, I was stunned to see an amazingly patterned butterfly fly up from near my feet. This butterfly is an Arizona Sister, and it was kind enough to let me photograph it on the way up the canyon and on my return. So, although I didn’t see any of the birds I was after, I had a delightful, memorable time, thanks to my master naturalist training.
I hope your training is having a similar, or better, impact in you life.
Note: Special thanks to Colin for the crop suggestion on the butterfly picture!
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